The ‘Design that Makes a Difference’ seminar and reception at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, felt like a very special occasion. Rama Gheerawo, the Centre’s Deputy Director, described it as the ‘realisation of a dream’.
The accompanying exhibition has been curated in conjunction with Onny Eikhaug, Programme Leader of the Norwegian Design Council, and also receives support from the Norwegian Embassy.
The seminar was chaired by Jeremy Myerson, Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and included presentations from Jan Stavik, Managing Director, Norwegian Design Council and Michael Wolff, UK Government Inclusive Design Advisor. Case studies from two of the projects were also showcased – Oyvind Gronli presented Blanke Ark, an election system, and Ben Terrett introduced the Gov.uk website.
In his introduction, Jeremy Myerson affirmed that people come first. Design can be an agent for social change and inclusion.
Jan Stavik commented on the ‘design for all’ principle and said that it is about improving people’s daily lives and about finding better solutions. In looking at demographic changes he said that over the next few years, 50% of the population in European countries will be over 50. There are business opportunities presented by these changes.
‘Inclusive design’ has been receiving more and more attention. In 2000 the UK government defined it as ‘ a process whereby designers ensure that their products and services address the needs of the widest possible audience’. In keeping with the idea of social equality enshrined in the Nordic model of democratic governance, in 2005, 16 Norwegian government ministries committed to an Action Plan implementing inclusive design in Norway by 2025.
The keynote presentation was given by the inspirational Micheal Wolff, UK Government Inclusive Design Advisor. He spoke about changing perceptions of design and the shift towards immersive ways of understanding people as part of design processes. His keynote drew upon case stories and was a call to action for us all to make the most of our lives.
Reflections from his talk included:
- Start every project not knowing what you’re going to do.
- Put yourself in other people’s shoes – he gave the example of Patricia Moore who at the age of 28, disguised herself as an 80 year old to experience what is was like for older people living in cities across the United States. Discovered that things didn’t work for older people. Her work initiated the development of transgenerational products. Read more here.
- Ask ‘why are you here?’ – what opportunities are you taking in life?
- Design involves: Curiosity, Appreciation, Imagination
- All design is about making a difference to people’s lives.
- Find the right questions. ‘Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds,’ Norman Vincent Peale
Case study: Blanke Ark, Government Voting System
Oyvind Gronli, Industrial Designer at Innovativoli spoke about design processes.
For Oyvind, the top three assets for designers are: Empathy, Humility and Holism
People-centred design led to multiple awards for the Blanke Ark designs
Blanke Ark is an inclusively designed election system that makes it easier for everyone to participate in democratic processes. Everything from booths to ballot papers have been designed to allow people with different needs and abilities to access polling stations.
Some of the features of the design include:
- a voting booth which is easy to get into and out of for everyone
- ballot papers designed so that voters intuitively will fold it the right way
- orange color contrast. An orange tape on the floor helps to guide voters through the room
- a ballot box designed so that the ballot is easy to deliver for everyone
The solution was implemented in 173 municipalities from the 2011 election.
Blanke Ark means blank sheet. In some ways this reminded me of Michael Wolff’s comment about starting every project by not knowing. There’s something open and exciting about beginning with a blank sheet. To find out more about the project, visit the Innovatilovi website’s pages here
Ben Terrett, Head of Design, Government Digital Service (@gdsteam on Twitter)
Ben spoke about the recently launched online public services portal for the UK government. Impressively, it has brought together in one place information from over 2,000 different sites. Ben described the government push behind this in the context of Martha Lane Fox’s report ‘Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution’ and a move towards digital by default.
The design approach encompassed:
- make it easy and simple to use
- start with user needs
- accessible design is good design
- this is for everyone – slogan
Ben highlighted that focusing on what people are looking for and want changes the way information is presented. For example, anyone looking for bank holidays is usually wanting to know when the next UK bank holiday will be. This is now clearly highlighted on the webpage – other dates are also available as needed. In other cases, focusing on needs meant that some content was lost: a little-known section about looking after bees is one of the areas that has not made it into the new site.
The portal continues to evolve. At the time of writing, 21 of 24 ministerial departments have moved their corporate websites to Gov.uk. More will join soon.
Other points noted include:
- Government research indicates 17% of the population are not online or won’t go online.
- 1.7bn – 1.8bn in savings each year according to The Digital Efficiency Report
- Government support – here’s the link to the video of the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP talking in the House of Commons, 20 March 2013 about designing around the needs of the user.
It’s fascinating to note that the typeface used on the Gov.uk site is based on Margaret Calvert’s designs for road, rail and airport signs in the 1950s and 1960s.
Exhibition displays on untreated wooden easels
Walking into the Henry Moore Gallery, I was struck by the easel display setting chosen to exhibit the projects. The room was infused with the fresh resin of wood. Rama had mentioned that the design took its inspiration from Norwegian barns.
The exhibition showcases twenty leading projects drawn from both Norway and the UK, chosen to demonstrate the benefits of people-centred design thinking. Ranging from passenger trains, emergency ambulances, voting systems, government websites and community initiatives, they provide a snapshot of the developing practice of social design – design that makes a difference.
The exhibition was officially opened by the Ambassador of Norway, HE Mr Kim Traavik. As he welcomed us all and celebrated the opening of the exhibition, I noticed that some of the audience lined up behind the orange tape which was set along the floor and formed part of the set of the Blanke Ark election display. Subtly, the taping on the floor guided our own movements during the reception event.
The exhibition features the new BT Big Button phone which is due to be launched later this year. The work of the i-design team, University of Cambridge, one of the KT-EQUAL consortia is also featured as part of the Nestle Inclusive Packaging exhibit.
I am intrigued by the changing role of design in society. This exhibition showcases examples of design and how it is changing peoples lives for the better. I like the empathic, humanistic, imaginative approach that characterises this exhibition. Design makes a significant contribution to improving our lives and still more can be done. My question is, are there limits to how far this broader notion of design as an agent of social change can go?
The exhibition is open until Friday 26 April 2013, 13.00pm, Henry Moore Gallery, Royal College of Art. Free admission. Do get along to see this if you can.
Written in a personal capacity by: S Bangar, Researcher/KT-EQUAL Research Co-ordinator, April 2013